Sing and Make a Joyful Noise!
IT was an excellent performance. The boy watched the musicians with rapt attention, absorbed in the movements of the many instrumentalists. “That was something! Isn’t music wonderful, Grandma?” “Yes, Andy, it is one of the Creator’s precious gifts to man, the gift and talent for melody and the art of expressing all his emotions in music and song. But as with all man’s talents, although so deep-rooted, it must be cultivated and trained. Today there is less playing of music and singing in the family circle—it is so easy to switch on the radio or put a record on the hi-fi and hear the music of professional players, rather than listen to the amateur at home.”
“I suppose people have always sung, but I wonder when they began to make music, Grandma?”
“Yes, right down through the centuries music and song seem to have played a significant role in outstanding events of a joyful nature. The Bible abounds with references to songs and singing and musical instruments; so let’s see what we can find!
“It is only natural to assume that the first man, Adam, and his wife, Eve, would sing out of the sheer exhilaration of living in perfection, with the ripple of water and the song of the birds to give the note. Adam and Eve’s children, though born imperfect, quickly learned the art of combining those tones into compositions of definite structure and meaning according to the laws of melody, harmony and rhythm. Thanks to man’s creative ability and the driving power of his emotions, he would see the endless possibilities of combining these tones into expressive melodies.
“So man soon learned the art of constructing instruments to beat the rhythm and accompany the melodies of his creation, for we read of Jubal early in man’s history: ‘He proved to be the founder of all those who handle the harp and the pipe.’ (Gen. 4:21) Laban speaks of songs, tambourine and the harp. (Gen. 31:27) A great historic event associated with singing is the deliverance of Israel at the Red Sea. The Israelites seemed trapped at the Red Sea by the oncoming enemy Egyptians, but God miraculously opened a way for his people so they could pass through on dry land to safety. Here they witnessed the powerful arm of Jehovah in their behalf. In unspeakable gratitude and awe they burst into a beautiful song of triumphant praise: ‘At that time Moses and the sons of Israel proceeded to sing this song to Jehovah and to say the following: “Let me sing to Jehovah, for he has become highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has pitched into the sea.” And Miriam . . . proceeded to take a tambourine in her hand and all the women began going out with her with tambourines and in dances. And Miriam kept responding to the men: “Sing to Jehovah, for he has become highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has pitched into the sea.’”—Ex. 15:1, 20, 21.
“That is the oldest of the songs written down and preserved for us in the Bible; the second oldest is the song of Deborah and Barak recorded in the fifth chapter of the book of Judges. This song magnifies Jehovah, describes a great deliverance by God and shows the bond between God and man through music and song.
“When we think of music and song in the Bible, David invariably comes to our mind. He was one of the foremost musicians, because he composed, played and sang songs and organized a wonderful orchestra and choir for the worship of God at the sanctuary.”
“I wonder what instruments they had to make up that orchestra so far back, Grandma.”
MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS OF THE BIBLE
“Well, we can take a look at the various instruments. We can put them into three categories: instruments of percussion, wind instruments and stringed instruments. Some of them were quite primitive; others were of singular beauty. Archaeology has brought much to light for us from the remote past.
“We’ll take the percussion instruments first. Here we have the timbrel or tambourine. This was a small hand drum with a single head. It was a shallow ring of wood covered on one side with skin and struck with the fingers or the hand. Its ancestry is very old. It was used a lot in domestic festivities and was played mostly by women to accompany songs and beat time for dances. That is probably why we do not find it in use in the temple orchestra, since the women remained back in the Court of the Women. But this is probably the instrument that Miriam and her maidens used, as well as Jephthah’s daughter, when she went out to meet her father and celebrate his victory over the Ammonites.
“Then we have the cymbals. In two distinct parts, the cymbals were made of concave plates of brass, one form of them being nearly flat, another consisting of hollow cones designed to be clashed together. Asaph, David’s chief musician, was a professional cymbalist. Under Ezra, 128 cymbal players of the Asaph family returned from the Exile.
“The wind instruments were chiefly flutes or pipes and horns. The single pipe was held vertically and blown by a mouthpiece at the end. Another kind was held and blown like a flute. Pipes consisting of one, two or more reeds were in use. Pipes were used in orchestra and to accompany merry songs and religious praise, but they were frowned upon by the priests because of pagan associations and so were not used in the temple.
“The trumpet and horn were wind instruments, too, and were made of the horns of oxen or rams or in imitation of them. Later they were made of silver and other metals. They were used to assemble the army or to sound an alarm; and the priests used them to announce festivals. The trumpet proclaimed the accession of the king and the commencement of the year of jubilee. At the dedication of the temple 120 silver trumpets were used.
“Now we come to the stringed instruments. They consisted of a body of wood with strings of gut and were played with the fingers or were struck with a plectrum of wood, ivory or metal. The harp was in general use. It was an instrument of strings set in an open triangular frame, with strings stretched between soundboard and a curved neck and plucked with the fingers. There were two kinds. The larger kind was about the height of a man, elaborately carved and elegantly shaped and played with the fingers of both hands. The smaller or portable one was popular in Israel. It could be hung from the neck and carried about or stood on a stool to play. This was the instrument played by Jubal. David skillfully played it to soothe Saul during his fits of madness. It was the instrument the exiled Israelites, in their mourning, hung on the willows of Babylon.
“A similar instrument was the psaltery. The psaltery was tuned to the soprano register, the harp an octave lower; thus they harmonized excellently in orchestra. The strings were of gut and their number in one variety was ten. One authority describes the psaltery as triangular in shape; another describes it as having the sounding board above the strings.
“David was known as ‘the darling of the melodies of Israel.’ (2 Sam. 23:1) He brought the Ark of the Covenant to the city of David with the accompaniment of songs, lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets and cymbals. He composed many songs of praise and petition. They are recorded for us in the Psalms; they were sung to the accompaniment of the harp and psaltery. Surely no collection of songs has been more known and read. Translated into several hundred tongues, they have been sung during a period of over 3,000 years. They reveal as no others the deep emotions of the heart: faith and trust, sorrow and despair, hope and confidence, exultation and contrition. Nowhere else is Jehovah so revered and blessed, so supplicated and implored, so praised and worshiped.
“David was assisted in his work by Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun, three masters of music. In David’s reign the choir of singers and musicians numbered 4,000 members. (1 Chron. 23:5) Of these, 288 were trained musicians, supported by a body of less skilled assistants. They were divided into twenty-four courses, containing twelve trained musicians each. The orchestra consisted of stringed instruments with cymbals. Little is known of the character of the music. The Hebrews had a scale of eight tones. Their sacred choirs probably sang the same simple melody, divided into two parts, the one an octave higher than the other, representing the male and female voices. Several Psalms were arranged for responsive singing.”
“It would have been interesting to witness one of the festivals in Israel, wouldn’t it, Grandma?”
“Yes, it must have been a soul-stirring experience. Imagine the inauguration of Solomon’s temple as recorded in 2 Chronicles chapter five. Why, all Israel is there! Most of the visiting worshipers would be resting at night in the open on the Mount of Olives and around the city. Dawn is breaking; the sound of the silver trumpets echoes around the hills. A thrill of anticipation and exultation surges through the awakening camp as the people rise and prepare for this memorable day. The Ark of the Covenant is to be carried into the Most Holy and this new temple dedicated. From all sides a great multitude converges to the temple site, probably singing in unison as they ascend, the women and girls with tambourines, many men with harps and lutes, with flutes and pipes.
“The orchestra and choir have taken up a position to the east of the altar, clothed in fine linen with cymbals and stringed instruments, zithers, psalteries, lyres and graceful harps. Supporting them are 120 priests impeccably groomed in their fine raiment, each holding a shining silver trumpet in readiness. Hush! The silver trumpets sound, silence descends on the waiting throng, the cymbals clash as the head musician sounds the opening chord. The mighty orchestra plays the leading refrain. The hundreds of Levite singers raise their voices in one glorious song of praise, ‘and as soon as they lifted up the sound with the trumpets and with the cymbals and with the instruments of song and with praising Jehovah . . . the house itself was filled with . . . the glory of Jehovah.’—2 Chron. 5:13, 14.
GLORIFYING JEHOVAH TODAY
“Jehovah’s witnesses glorify Jehovah today by singing ‘the new song,’ proclaiming from house to house the message of God’s established kingdom. So Jehovah’s witnesses recognize that carrying on pure worship is the all-essential thing and that it comes before trained choirs and music. They shun sanctimoniousness and sectarianism in their praise, keeping to the pure language of the Bible. In their congregation meetings and at larger assemblies they sing joyous songs of praise to Jehovah with enthusiasm and naturalness. At the Divine Will International Assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses, held in New York city’s Yankee Stadium and Polo Grounds in 1958, two orchestras were used, each consisting of more than a hundred professional musicians. Each was complete with strings, brasses, woodwinds and percussion instruments, including tympani and harp.
“Soon Jehovah through his King, Christ Jesus, will perform his act of deliverance in behalf of his people as in former days at the Red Sea. Emerging from the climactic showdown fight of Armageddon, the survivors will sing songs of triumphant praise and gratitude to their almighty Deliverer.”
“Such a vision makes every Christian effort worth while today, Grandma!”
“Doesn’t it! And as we see the name of our great God vindicated, we will shout for joy and sing with the psalmist: ‘Praise him with the blowing of the horn. Praise him with the stringed instrument and the harp. Praise him with the tambourine and the circle dance. Praise him with strings and the flute. Praise him with the cymbals of melodious sound. Praise him with the clashing cymbals. Every breathing thing—let it praise Jah. Praise Jah, you people!’”—Ps. 150:3-6.